Oris Tales - Life without a DAC, The magical 6N1P, and a little cable rolling
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Nick Dangerous

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Today is August 21st. Time to celebrate!

For those of you NOT from Texas, the arrival of September is an important landmark. Texas sits inside of a giant invisible oven that sparks to life every year. With the pops of the July 4th fireworks, the gargantuan oven roars to life with violent flames, roasting everything alive until the end of August. I'm grateful that Independence Day provides us with such a visually splendid temperature warning: See the fireworks, dive for the shadows, clutch the air conditioners, and pray for rain for the next 60 days.

Luckily, 2002 has been kind to us Texans, weather-wise. The rest of the world may curse the El Nino weather phenomenon, but for us it's a blessing. This summer has been one of the mildest I can remember. There has been hardly a single day of triple digit temperatures in summer's wake. Texas oven, we cheated you! HA!

Next comes the arrival of September. The sudden coolness in the air snaps my heat-baked neurons back into electric focus. Everything sounds, tastes, and smells better... crisp and alive. It is the perfect time to spend a series of wonderful, tranquil evenings with friends, enjoy a little Scotch, grill a thick steak, and relax under a trademark Texas sunset. You betcha. September is heaven.

To prepare for the up and coming good times, I've been working hard to finish tidying up everything. The recent Head-Fi meeting left me with lots of shipping to do. Headroom, Divergent, and Channel Islands Audio have all received their gear in the mail, leaving me with only Shivohum's W100's to return. It was especially sad to send the tube-laden Twin Head on its way... like saying farewell on the final day of a beautiful island vacation.

In the absence of musical headphoneage, I've been continuing to experiment with the Oris 200 Project. This is the current configuration at present:

Source -> Pioneer 440 DVD/CD/MP3 player
Preamp -> Creek OBH-12 passive preamp w/remote
Tube amps -> Bottlehead Paraglow 2A3 monoblocks
Bass filter -> Custom made bass filter
Bass amplifier -> Parasound HCA-1000A 125W SS THX amp

Everything is connected with .5m Outlaw interconnects. The speakers use ordinary twisted-pair copper lampcord.

Upon first glance, you might be thinking, "Where's the DAC? Can't celebrate September without a decent DAC, right?".

You be right!

I sent my stock ART DI/O to Wayne (of Boldercables fame) for the full modification treatments. He currently charges $265 for the service, which seems reasonable considering the amount of work required. The modded DI/O comes back in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, I have had plenty of time to listen to the Pioneer DVD player's direct CD output via the Oris 200. For those of you unsure of the importance of having a decent source, take heed! The Pioneer delivers great looking video, but the audio quality leaves much to be desired. I'm counting the SECONDS until I can get my DI/O back. Think about it: How can a $180 DVD/CD/MP3 player be expected to do it all with exceptional quality on every front - video, inputs, motorized tray, stability, panel display, video/audio DACs, wiring, power, chassis, packaging, manuals, and remote? It's too much to ask.

Newbies are frequently told not to buy a cheap CD player because, "you can't polish a turd". This may be true, but in my experience it is difficult to distinguish a quality CD player from a budget Korean knockoff with an average pair of speakers and a typical consumer grade receiver. A consumer who buys an expensive high-end source and slaps it into an average system will not hear much of a difference and will feel cheated. Could there be any other explanation for the abundance of forum posts stating "cables make no difference" and "it's all 1's and 0's" from frustrated newbies?

I know I'm re-stating what is conventional wisdom around here, but the importance of having a quality source cannot be denied... AS LONG AS your speakers and amps are up to the task. Concerning headphones, I'd go so far as to say that every Head-Fi reader should consider making an investment in a quality source, since headphones deliver such high performance for the money. We hi-fi headphoners are some of the most critical listeners in the world, yanno. A modded DI/O coupled with an inexpensive SP/DIF CD transport is the least expensive way to own a high quality source. Should be about $575 total. Just do it.

Aside from waiting for my DI/O to get back, what else could I do to get into trouble? Tinker with the amps! Examining the Bottlehead forums led me to a fascinating discussion about modding the Paraglow amps to a "Paraglow II" level of performance. Apparently, the mod involves a complete swap of the 12AT7 driver tube circuitry for a 6N1P, a higher voltage version of the famous 6922/6DJ8. The 6N1P is wired in such a way that one half of the tube serves to shunt regulate the other half.

Is this exciting? Many people report that the level of improvement is so substantial that it eclipses the performance of expensive Amperex and Siemens NOS tubes. Best of all, the 6N1P is an abundant, currently manufactured tube that is cheeeeap. Hey, look at that... Headwize.com has a headphone amp schematic that uses the 6N1P.

I'll have this mod completed before the end of the month. Expect a full report. Could be great news for the tube community.

The last tweak I've been experimenting with is "cable rolling"... specifically, speaker cable. As users of the Cardas and Equinox Sennheiser replacement cables are well aware of, cables can make or break a system. This is equally true for speaker cables.

As an experiment, I stripped some of Doc's solid core 20.5AWG magnet wire and hooked it up to the Oris horns in place of the lampcord. Talk about a difference! The highs, although too splashy, were smooth and detailed like I had NEVER heard before. It is amazing that a simple piece of wire can make such a change. I've since replaced the magnet wire with the lampcord to minimize the overemphasized highs, but due to the potential gains I have ordered five different lengths of wire to do some serious cable rolling. Again, more details to come after some extended listening and a New Belgium wheat beer.

If there is a tweaker out there who would like to take Sennheiser headphone cable rolling to THE NEXT LEVEL, let me know! It would be a simple matter of sacrificing the stock headphone cable and liberating the connectors. I'd be happy to send over a variety of different lengths of wire for the benefit of the community. A little soldering/desoldering experience and patience is all it would take. I'd do it myself but I sold my Senns a few weeks ago. Might be a super cheap way to turn that mediocre stock cable into a great one!

September is gonna be great! Oktoberfest, the State Fair of Texas, and many other wonderful activities await. I hope everyone here has as much fun this Fall as I plan to.

As always, happy listening!
 
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aeberbach

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Quote:

"it's all 1's and 0's" from frustrated newbies?


I'm no guru but I'm no newbie either. And my gear is hardly Korean budget! Maybe you just mean I have cloth ears.
 
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daycart1

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Quote:

Originally posted by Nick Dangerous
I hope everyone here has as much fun this Fall as I plan to.

As always, happy listening!


You, sir, are Dangerous! Some questions:
1) I've seen only sketchy, speculative discussions of transport vs. DAC in producing quality output. Where do serious diminishing returns set in with transport? Is your Pioneer almost there? Do you have a take on this? Does Wayne, or anyone else at Boulder?

2) Surely you have a grand return-to-headphones scheme? Tell us!

3) It's been cool here in SoCal as well, even a little too cool perhaps.
 
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Nick Dangerous

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aeberbach - The 1's and 0's comment wasn't directed at you or specifically anyone for that matter. It's a topic that pops up frequently on AudioAsylum. I used to believe 1's were always 1's and 0's were always 0's, but not after doing a few digital SP/DIF cable A/B tests.

daycart1 - I haven't done any "transport rolling" yet, but I suspect that the transport's role is less significant than that of the DAC. I'm not that concerned about it (yet). For $180, I'm extremely happy with what I have.

I'm not sure when I will be returning to headphones... the Oris is still keeping me very busy with multiple unfinished experiments. I do plan to pick up a KSC-35 and a portable MP3 player. How's that for irony? I will say that if I didn't make the plunge into fullrange tube audio, I'd have a Twin Head and HD-600 on my desk. Oh, and a modded ART DI/O of course. I can't stress how much of an improvement that makes!
 
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Nick Dangerous

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Been a while since I updated this... so why not...

Last fall was a BLAST, both in the world of hi-fi and otherwise. September -> December is always a special time for me. The Oris Project has been tweaked with the following upgrades since then:

Speaker drivers have been changed from the Lowther PM2A to the AER Mk I. I now hear crystalline highs, a wider soundstage, and an overall naturalness that is beautiful to behold.

Speaker cables are two single strands of Cardas litz 29ga wire. Uber-cheap and good.

DAC is still the smART DI/O, but has just been sent to Wayne of Bolder Cables to be upgraded to MENSA DI/O status. I'm also getting a custom DI/O power supply (sans Bybee). They should be ready in mid-April.

Bottlehead Paraglows have been converted to Paraglow II status... with a self-shunt regulated 6N1P input tube taking the place of the 12AV7. Initial impressions are mixed, but John Tucker has mentioned that "it will sound worse before getting better"... right around the 200 hour mark.

Sadly, the Oris is not in my possession at present due to a recent move... so I'm unable to set it up properly with ideal room placement and treatments. I'll be moving in October at which point it will be back in my full-time possession and I'll FINALLY be able to update the pages about the Oris Project on my web site.

That's it for now. Kelly and I will do a smART vs. MENSA comparison ASAP...
 
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daycart1

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We'll be waiting. Will the Oris be wanting acoustical treatments in your place? Speaker placement is a big advantage to headphones!
 
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Nick Dangerous

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Room treatments are definitely in the cards. I may hire an audio engineer to help me with a few critical measurements.
 
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Achilles

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Quote:

Originally posted by Nick Dangerous
I used to believe 1's were always 1's and 0's were always 0's, but not after doing a few digital SP/DIF cable A/B tests.


 
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Nick Dangerous

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Digital cables carry digital information. Since digital is 1's and 0's unlike analog signals which carry the actual signal, all digital cables should sound the same. 1's is always 1's and 0's is always 0's, right?

Wrong.

Better cables deliver better sound... including those that carry digital signals. Thus, some cables deliver "better" 1's and 0's than others. Maddening, but true.

Welcome to the asylum. It's all uphill from here.
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by Nick Dangerous
Thus, some cables deliver "better" 1's and 0's than others. Maddening, but true.


I believe your ears. Has anyone ever theorized why this is? What is a "better" 1 or 0?
 
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Hey, whats with all these people dissing Korean made gear?

And, Nick, for your next upgrade, how about you upgrade your speakers?

 
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Nick Dangerous

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Ha ha ha, very funny. The only upgrade I'd trade for would be either the Avantgarde's huge new bass horn setup, a pair of Edgarhorn Titans, or an Oris 150 w/Bert's new bass module.
 
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